Friday, July 19, 2013


The subtitle of this post should probably be,
"How to make hunks of healthy food taste good".  

Jar-Jar-Beet Salad
The hunks of food in this particular recipe is beets, but it could be any solid semi-edible hunk:  a potato, an apple, a turnip, a sweet-potato, a pile of kale.  I chose beets for this post because the transformation from Ugh to Yum is so dramatic for me.  "Dramatic" as in, I thought I'd never like beets.  And mostly, in just about any form you could name, I don't eat them.  Beets are not my food.  But ever since I tried this recipe three years ago, I can't get enough of Beet Salad.  Ta Dah!

Here's the recipe for Jar-Jar Beets.

Mix together
  • peeled, shredded beets
  • another shredded vegetable* 
  • oil
  • vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic
  • a dash of hot sauce.
(*in today's version, zucchini, because it's coming out of my ears right now)

Don't bake it; chill it.  And then eat it.   And eat it.    and eat it . . . 

What make this recipe so good?  Let's dissect this recipe.

Love the food processor!
First, it tastes good because we cut things up.  Think about the difference between potatoes and french fries: size matters.  When my kids were young, they had a hard time eating apples.  But if I sliced the apples thinly (like potato chips), the kids would eat three apples in a sitting.  Slice sandwiches into "fingers", and the sandwiches disappear.  Chopping things makes them easier to munch on.  

Chopping things also increases the "surface area to volume ratio", meaning that even more of that solid, nerdy food can get coated in your favorite yummy dressing.  The beets become partly a vehicle for delivering the things our taste buds crave.  

Enter . . . the Dressing that contains those craved-for-substances.

Substances such as: fat.  Adding a bit of healthy oils just makes so many things taste yummier.  "Granola" is oats with oil (and some other stuff).  "Apple crisp" is apples with butter (and some other stuff).   "Mashed potatoes" is potatoes with butter (and not much else, really.   Dude!).    Noodles taste better topped with cheese.  Adding a bit of fat to something that came from something that grew in the dirt, well that can be enough to turn a vegetable or a starch into a meal.
The magic happens here

The vinegar adds a tang of acid.  People like cold foods that are slightly acidic -- wine and lemonade are common examples of acidic drinks; it's part of why so many people drink soda, and why a glass of water seems to taste better with a dash of lemon but not, say, a dash of pumpkin.  (Fruits and tomatoes are acidic; pumpkins not so much).  

For reasons I don't understand, hot foods don't seem to benefit as much from the acid influx:  when I'm baking a vegetable, the vinegar/lemon juice is the ingredient from above that I dial back, usually to the point of non-existence.  Tomatoes are still universally awesome additions, though.

Salt and pepper are (in the words of a lovely old Jennifer Berman cartoon), poster children for the "Fine Herbs and Spices of Ohio."  Salt is an incredible flavor enhancer, and I for one am very glad that it has recently been taken off the list of Very Very Bad For You condiments.  Yay, salt!

Garlic is on that list because . . . well, because . . . well, because any food that does not contain chocolate must automatically contain garlic, or otherwise risk perdition.  Garlic is the sacred essence of all being.  I mean, really.

The zucchini and the hot sauce?   They add the surprise bit of additional flavor and texture.  They represent variety, so they can vary.   When I make tomato salad it looks just like the recipe above, but with tomatoes playing the role of beets, and with nuts and basil taking over from zucchini and hot sauce.  When we make sweet-potato chips, the zucchini disappears and the hot sauce becomes paprika.  When we bake potatoes (sliced in 1/2 inch cubes), almost any kind of spice will work: oregano and basil for an italian mood, curry for those tangier nights, sage and thyme and chives when we're getting close to November.  

If possible, top the food off with a nice presentation.  (I love tossing this all in a jar; sometimes I manage to layer the veggies in stripes.  Mostly, not).

Even more important, give it a good name.  I am a huge fan of naming my food with appealing or funny names.  (True story: my husband recently asked me if "Swiss Chard" is really called that by everyone else, or did I just give it that location-based name?  I assured him that if I had named it, I would have called it "Chinese Chard" or "Chicago Chard" or "Swiss Salad".)  

Hence, when I bottle my beet salad into canning jars for storing in the fridge*, it gets the name, Jar-Jar-Beets.

*This recipe is not acidic enough to can in the sense of storing it up for the winter. For that, I pickle the beets, using this recipe plus extra hot sauce.

There you have it: a universal recipe for veggie salad:
  • chop it.
  • add fat (oil/mayonnaise/butter)
  • add acid (lemon or vinegar)
  • add garlic (or risk your very soul)
  • add salt
  • add other spices, and perhaps some other Stuff.
Give that baby a name, and serve it up proudly.  Yum!


  1. Great post, I'll have to try some Jar-Jar Beets. I usually steam my beets and eat them dripping with butter, salt and pepper, sort of like corn on the cob. I LOVE cooked beets. Beet greens are yummy too, steamed like Swiss Chard or Spinach. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love beets. I love them pickled (or vinaigrette) most of all.

  3. Yeah, I should try these (actually, I am becoming more fond of pickled beets, especially with a bit of hot sauce). Steamed beets, eh? I might try grilling a round of beets, since we can do that outdoors and not heat up the house. Ideas, ideas . . . -MM